Dubia WCIT Conference Splits Developed and Developing Worlds On Internet Control

The International Telecommunication Union conference currently underway in Dubai, from 3 to 14 December, has been generating some controversy recently. This is due to proposals that many view as a power grab by the United Nations organisation to take control of some internet governance roles.

The grandly named World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) has gathered interest from luminaries involved in the domain name arena from father of the internet Vint Cerf to Paul Twomey to Milton Mueller. Even Sir Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, has expressed his concerns about proposals up for discussion.

But concerns the ITU is making a power grab are denied by the ITU. Leaked proposed regulations from countries such as Russia suggest that some countries want the role of, for example, ICANN, to come under the auspices of the ITU.

Twomey goes on to note what some of the changes proposed would be if adopted.
“Included in the fine print” he writes “are proposals by Russia, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others that could justify the following:

  • introduction of a spreading international regime for deep monitoring of internet communications, along with a move towards personal identification of who is sending and receiving communications;
  • dramatically increase the capacity of governments to restrict or completely block transmission of information via the internet; and
  • result in significant increases in the costs to internet users for accessing content on the internet.”

And then “proposals from some governments, if accepted, would go much further, including requirements that:

  • the internet be used ‘in a rational way’;
  • governments restrict the use of the internet where this would ‘interfere in the internal affairs of other states, or divulge information of a sensitive nature’; and
  • governments be required to re-route or block traffic passing through their territory simply on the request of another government.”

But the ITU’s secretary general, Hamadoun Toure, insists this is not the case and has said the ITU’s goal is not to regulate speech. There are many who believe otherwise. And the secrecy that surrounds ITU processes means it’s hard for many to know for sure given typical ITU secrecy.

However former ICANN CEO and president Paul Twomey writes on ABC News’ The Drum that “when the cheer squad includes China’s public security bureau, Putin’s bureaucrats and the Iranian government, it pays to be sceptical.”

There is as a proposal from the US and Canada, with support from the European Union and Australia, meaning most, if not all, western countries object to changes as rumoured to being proposed.

The proposal from the US and Canada is to “protect the internet from new international regulation has failed to win prompt backing from other countries, setting up potentially tough negotiations to rewrite a telecom treaty,” according to a Reuters report.

The idea “would limit the International Telecommunication Union’s rules to only telecom operators and not internet-based companies such as Google and Facebook.”

Reuters goes on to report “that could reduce the prospective impact of efforts by other countries including Russia and some in the Middle East and Africa to obtain more powers to govern the Internet through the ITU.”

“ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré told Reuters last week that any major changes to the 1988 treaty would be adopted only with “consensus” approaching unanimity, but leaked documents show that managers at the 147-year-old body view a bad split as a strong possibility.”

For links to the stories mentioned above and additional reports and opinion pieces, see below:

Keep the Internet free and open by Vint Cerf

Google’s Vint Cerf: Keep the Internet Free and Open

The new push to control the internet by Paul Twomey

Internet revolution in crisis by Milton Mueller

UN internet regulation talks in Dubai threaten web freedom

US fails to win early limit on Net controls at global gathering

Sir Tim Berners-Lee flags UN net conference concerns

Berners-Lee warns against changes to Net at UN conclave

The Internet’s Future Depends on Maintaining Its Free Spirit by Vint Cerf

Eye on Dubai: Predictions on U.N. Internet Regulations

Cutting Our Own Net by Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation